Hypocrites behind the Pulpit—Richard Baxter (1615 – 1691)

In the weaving town of Kidderminster from 1641 to 1660, Richard Baxter’s preaching and catechizing was the Spirit’s means to transform the parish from licentiousness to godliness. As he gathered his ministerial insights into a book for the Worcestershire association of ministers, he recognized a great danger for pastors who might attempt to follow his recommendations for reform—they could preach against sin, while they themselves continued in sin. In so doing, they not only endangered their congregations, but their own souls.

Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and, when you have done, dishonour him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power, and yet contemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws, and wilfully break them? If sin be evil, why do you live in it? if it be not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it be dangerous, how dare you venture on it? if it be not, why do you tell men so? If God’s threatenings be true, why do you not fear them? if they be false, why do you needlessly trouble men with them, and put them into such frights without a cause? Do you ‘know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death;’ and yet will you do them? ‘Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery,’ or be drunk, or covetous, art though such thyself? ‘Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?’ What! shall the same tongue speak evil that speakest against evil? Shall those lips censure, and slander, and backbite your neighbour, that cry down these and the like things in others? Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and yet do not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slave yourselves: ‘For of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought into bondage.’ ‘To whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.’ O brethren! it is easier to chide at sin, than to overcome it.[1]


[1] Richard Baxter, The Reformed Pastor (1656; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1989), 67-68.